Elizabeth Earl

Council has 4 months to fix Cook Inlet salmon fishery management plan

The future of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery is again in the air as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council debates how to manage it after a federal court ruled that it has to write a new plan. It’s been six years since a federal court ruled that the council’s decision to remove Cook Inlet from a federal management plan and defer entirely to the state was illegal. The council initially decided to remove Cook Inlet in 2012, a decision that the United Cook Inlet Drift Association challenged in court. In 2016, the court agreed with the association, ordering the council to create a new federal management plan that includes the federal waters of Cook Inlet. With input from a stakeholder committee, the council worked on the new plan from 2018 to 2020, voting on a set of options in late 2020. However, representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced at that meeting that they would not accept delegated management with federal oversight. The council then voted to accept an option that would have closed the federal waters to all commercial fishing. UCIDA challenged that vote in court, saying that the decision was arbitrary and capricious, and a federal judge again agreed. Now, the council has to review the options again and vote on a final action by April 2023 in order to comply with the court’s timeline. At their meeting on Dec. 10, Doug Duncan with the National Marine Fisheries Service told the council members that the deadline is set in April because the fisheries service still needs a year after that to finalize the management plan through the federal rulemaking process. At this point, the proposal doesn’t look much different than it did in December 2020, when the council voted to accept Alternative 4, which would have closed the Cook Inlet federal waters to commercial salmon fishing. However, one major change that the court ruled had to be included was management of the sport fishery that takes place in federal waters. Homer, Anchor Point and Ninilchik are major launch points for guides and private sportfishermen nearby, where anglers often head out to fish particularly for king and coho salmon. There are four total options: Do nothing, delegate management to the state with federal oversight, have the federal government directly manage the fishery, or close the fishery. Because of court decisions, the first and the fourth options aren’t really viable, Duncan said. That leaves the council with the middle two options: Either delegate management to the state and oversee its decisions, or manage the fishery directly under the National Marine Fisheries Service. Federal management would be a fairly major change for how the fishery operates — the National Marine Fisheries Service does not actively manage salmon fisheries in Alaska at present, and because they are an anadromous species that are currently managed based on escapement into freshwater, the mechanics of regulation would change. For example, federal groundfish fisheries are often limited based on total allowable catch limits, which are set based on a population estimate before each season begins. Salmon fluctuate from year to year, which the state projects and manages for based on in-season information. Council member Bill Tweit said the council’s decisions is challenging because they are stuck with one or the other — delegate to the state or set up entirely federal management. State representatives said in 2020 they would not accept delegated management because they saw it as a form of overreach, and Tweit said he understands from their perspective why delegation is not appealing. “It strikes me as a state official as a truly unpalatable choice,” he said. “I would have great difficulty if I were sitting in the commissioner’s chair … it’s an intrusive oversight, even well-intentioned, well-meant, and well-founded in the (Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management) Act. Still, from a governmental perspective it’s very intrusive, and it requires the state agency to devote fairly significant resources that they don’t have to devote to facilitating the oversight of a federal agency.” Most of the stakeholders agreed — they would prefer some form of state management with federal oversight over strictly federal management. That was the consensus from the beginning, even in 2018, when stakeholders began to weigh in on a new management plan. The 2020 decision to close the fishery drew ire from many of them and concern from the communities that depend on commercial fishing, such as Kenai and Homer. Homer has the largest harbor on Cook Inlet and depends on marine trades for a major slice of its economy. Donna Aderhold, a Homer City Council member, told the council members that she appreciated their focus on economic impacts during this federal management plan development process, and urged them to consider the human implications of limiting or shrinking the fishery. “Data points represent human beings,” she said. “They represent people. They represent my friends. There are people in Homer who have participated in the drift fleet who have sold their vessels, sold their permits, and moved out of Homer. Those individuals who leave Homer under those circumstances represent members of our port and harbor commission, they represent volunteers in our community, they represent people who serve on our nonprofit boards … they’re amazing people who have contributed a lot to our communities.” Kenai Mayor Paul Ostrander echoed the economic concerns, as Kenai is home to the peninsula’s remaining large salmon processing facilities. The council there has repeatedly opposed the plan to close the federal waters to salmon fishing, but has not specifically supported an option going forward yet, he said. “The city has not weighed in on which of the remaining alternatives should be adopted … but ultimately want this council to consider the importance of commercial fishing in Cook Inlet and a critical component of the continued viability of that fishery is keeping the fishery open and managing it using the best science available,” he said. Kenai Peninsula Borough planning director Robert Ruffner told the council that the borough supported passing “some variant of Alternative 2,” though said it was still unclear whether the state Fish and Game commissioner could issue a formal rejection of delegated management. He said the council should be involved in the scientific review process for setting escapement goals as well. “We want to advocate for the best science available, and having some checks and balances and some peer review on those seems very appropriate because we’re going to build on that science in this process for all five species of salmon in the (federal waters),” Ruffner said. Fish and Game deputy commissioner Rachel Baker, who represents Fish and Game on the council, said she agreed with Tweit’s concerns about the burden of work for the state in Alternative 2 and looked forward to more information at the next analysis. The council accepted the initial analysis, with requests to the National Marine Fisheries Service for more information about the details of alternatives 2 and 3 at its next meeting. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Fishing jobs declined in Alaska in 2021

Last year brought another series of job losses for the Alaskan fishing industry, even after the massive declines in 2020. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s analysis of fishing jobs, which it releases annually, shows that 2021 did not bring a full recovery back to the industry the way it did to others after the low during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Overall, the industry lost another 134 jobs, on top of the approximately 1,000 it lost in 2020. “While some harvests were notably large in 2021, no fishery significantly boosted its employment,” wrote Joshua Warren, an economist for the Alaska Department of Labor, in the report. “Larger harvests don’t necessarily translate to job growth.” Though there are commercial fisheries operating all over Alaska year-round, employment usually spikes from May through September for salmon harvesting. Of all the sectors, salmon tends to be the largest employer each year — about 56% of total harvesting jobs last year, according to the Department of Labor. Salmon continued to be the largest in 2021 as well, though not proportionally, considering that the 2021 harvest and exvessel value were the third-largest each in state history. In 2021, the state recorded an average monthly employment of 6,449 salmon jobs, 134 fewer jobs than the 2020 average, which itself was more than 1,000 jobs down from 2019. Salmon jobs have been declining since 2015, when they hit an average of 8,501, the highest in the last 20 years. Salmon jobs are highly seasonal, though — while there are nearly none in April, before the first salmon start to return, the average in July is more than 20,000. But even that July peak was down in 2021 by nearly 300 jobs. That number is also down significantly from a high in 2013 of about 25,000 jobs, according to the Department of Labor. It’s hard to say exactly why salmon harvesting jobs declined, though people involved in the industry in 2021 reported difficulty finding employees for both processing and harvesting, just like most businesses across the American economy. As the economy rebounded from the job lows of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers found themselves competing for a scarcer workforce. Sam Friedman, an economist with the McKinley Group, said the evidence seems to indicate “there were less people catching more fish and processing more fish.” Data compiled by the McKinley Research Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute show that processing jobs dropped significantly from 2020 to 2021 as well. Peak monthly employment fell by more than 800 jobs, and the average monthly employment fell from 8,114 jobs to 7,388. However, the percentage of Alaska residents ticked up slightly, from 21% to 22%. The opposite was true of the harvesting sector, according to data compiled by Fish and Game on behalf of ASMI. The percentage of Alaska residents in the harvesting sector fell from 56% to 53%, with total employment falling about 100 jobs between the two years. Most of those jobs were actually among skippers, though — 200 skipper jobs were lost, while 100 crew jobs were added, according to the data. Halibut harvesting is the second-largest employment sector after salmon, without about 14% of the jobs to salmon’s 56%. Three regions gained halibut jobs last year: Southeast, Southcentral and Kodiak, totaling about 30 extra jobs, an increase of about 3.5% for the sector. Employment in groundfish harvesting, the next largest sector, fell about 6.8%, while sablefish fell about 13.9%. Late 2021 also brought a year of major closures for crab fisheries in the Bering Sea region, with the first complete closure of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery in decades and a nearly 90% cut in the total allowable catch for Bering Sea snow crab due to a near-complete population collapse. However, most crab jobs are actually in Southeast Alaska, where the employment slightly increased; the employment in the Aleutians held steady, while Kodiak and Southcentral both lost crab harvesting jobs. There are two peaks for crab employment — February and October — and the February employment only declined slightly while October fell to nearly half of 2020′s average, according to the Department of Labor. “Gains in some of the other months muted 2021′s loss to just 13 (crab) jobs,” Warren wrote. Regionally, Southeast posted a record year for salmon harvest in both poundage and value, as well as a higher average number of jobs for the industry. All Southeast’s other harvesting sectors added jobs or stayed steady except for sablefish, according to the Department of Labor. The Aleutians and Pribilofs regions held steady except for in groundfish, which fell nearly 18%; Kodiak lost jobs in crab and sablefish, but compensated overall with salmon and halibut increases. Bristol Bay, which posted a near-record harvest for salmon in 2021, saw employment in salmon stay nearly flat, with the peak in July actually dropping slightly. The tiny herring fishery there posted job increases, while crab jobs disappeared because the red king crab fishery closed. Salmon jobs declined in Southcentral Alaska by about 2.1%, but the biggest regional loss was in the Yukon Delta, where the salmon stocks continued to crash. In the last four years, the region has seen its summer annual employment in commercial salmon fishing drop from about 1,000 jobs to about 144 in 2021. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why the salmon are declining, pointing to climate change, competition with hatchery salmon, bycatch and phytoplankton blooms as potential causes, according to the Department of Labor. “The last few years of job losses in the Yukon Delta have been the largest our data have recorded in Alaska,” Warren wrote in the report. “Salmon harvesting jobs have plunged to near-zero as the fish fail to return in adequate numbers for both subsistence and commercial use.” 2022 hasn’t quite come to a close yet — the salmon fisheries are closed for the year and halibut are due to close at the beginning of December, but the crab fisheries are beginning to open, as well as other winter fisheries. Warren notes in the Department of Labor report that the 2021 trends in salmon harvesting seemed to continue in 2022, and future harvesting employment will likely be influenced by environmental factors like climate change and biological factors that influence salmon populations. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its statewide salmon summary for 2022 on Nov. 10, noting that the overall harvest of salmon was down by about 31% —mostly due to a decline in pink salmon, which is normal for even-numbered years. However, the value was up nearly $80 million from 2021, for an estimated total of $720.4 million. More than half of that value came from sockeye salmon, and most of those came from Bristol Bay. The record harvest this year in the region helped push the 2022 statewide sockeye salmon catch to the largest on record, according to Fish and Game. Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the closing date for the halibut season to early December. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Massive losses predicted from Bering Sea crab closures

This winter will mark the first time in the history of U.S. management that the Bering Sea snow crab fishery will be closed. While other crab stocks have been declining in the North Pacific for years, the snow crab fishery’s collapse is doubly shocking for the industry. Not only is it one of the larger crab fisheries by volume in Alaska, it has also gone from booming and healthy to overfished and collapsing within five years, with little warning or clear explanation. Fishermen who made investments in permits and boats less than five years ago are now looking at bankruptcy. Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the trade organization representing the industry, has estimated the direct financial losses at about $500 million. Adding in the ripple effects to the economy, that estimate rises to about $1 billion. Jamie Goen, the executive director of ABSC, said fleet members have expressed frustration with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s past inaction on crab conservation as well as the sadness going into this closure. “(There is) deep sadness and shock with what we’re facing right now,” she said. “I think there was hope there would at least be a small fishery to keep our guys surviving and vessels working.” The council heard and agreed to set maximum catch limits, which the Alaska Department of Fish and Game followed with the announcement of a total closure for both the Bering Sea snow crab fishery and Bristol Bay red king crab. This is the second year in a row for Bristol Bay red king crab, which has been declining for more than a decade, but this is the first Bering Sea snow crab closure in the history of U.S. management, Goen said. Just prior to the pandemic, survey numbers from the snow crab population looked healthy enough for managers to raise catch limits and to tempt crew members to buy into the fishery. That was a sign of a healthy fishery, Goen said, which was also rationalized — a federal process designed to make sure a fishery is adequately conserved and managed while allowing for maximum sustainable use. During the pandemic, there was no survey conducted, so the next available data came from the survey in 2021. That was what showed a near-complete stock collapse and a nearly 90% cut in the total allowable catch for last season. This year’s survey was even worse. Nearly all groups in the survey showed historic drops, with the exception of immature female crab, and managers are now working on a stock rebuilding plan that will likely take many years to see through. In the meantime, crabbers either can’t fish or have very small quotas, which won’t be enough to sustain them. “We’re facing an industry’s extinction,” Goen said. “It’s the independent family businesses. It’s the second- or third-generation fishermen (we’re losing).” The closure this year presents the industry with potentially major damage. When the boats are tied up, crew members may choose to move on and not be available next year. With an industry like crab, which relies on experience to weather the difficult conditions in the Bering Sea winters, that’s a huge loss, Goen said. The two biggest crab processing communities in the Bering Sea — Unalaska and St. Paul — are also concerned about the impact. Unalaska Mayor Vincent Tutiakoff Sr. said in a letter to the council that the city is concerned about its harvesters, as well as the associated businesses at the port, being able to survive these cuts and closures. St. Paul is even more vulnerable; crab landings and processing typically account for about 85% of the city’s revenues. Under the current projections, St. Paul was expecting a loss of about 52% overall compared to 2021, with the crab losses offset somewhat by the shared fishery tax program through the state. Phillip A. Zavadil, St. Paul’s city manager, wrote to the council that the city will “basically be kept afloat” by those taxes, and the situation in 2023 is likely to result in even further cuts. “Over the mid to long term, should this status persist, it will impact municipal services, the City’s ability to pay debts and obligations, and its ability to finance or provide local matches to future harbor and other infrastructure projects, necessary to maintain Saint Paul Island’s participation in the Bering Sea fisheries,” he wrote. St. Paul’s community development quota fishing group, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, has also seen a major revenue drop because of the cuts in crab catch limits. Heather McCarty, the lobbyist for CBSFA, said the organization is looking for ways to diversify, but has much of its portfolio tied up in crab harvesting and processing quota. “We are losing on three different levels,” she said. “We are losing on our portion of the CDQ quota, we’re losing the revenues from our investment in harvester quota and processing quota.” The group is also dependent on the infrastructure from the crab processing industry for its halibut catch, another major part of the industry in the region. Right now, the group is planning to send out vessels to participate in the very limited tanner crab fishery, which only has about 2 million pounds available this year, and in the Aleutian golden king crab fishery, McCarty said. “I think people expect to not make very much money,” she said. “But there are many things (to fishing) ... like keeping the crew lubricated, keeping the boat lubricated, things that have to keep operating.” There are some vessels in the crab fleet that may do the same, Goen said — while some may tie up, others may go out for the small Tanner crab quota not expecting to make much money, but just to keep the boats operating and the crews paid. However, they can’t keep doing that if the closures and tight quotas go on for years. In the meantime, ABSC is working on getting a disaster declaration for both Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab, which could put money in fishermen’s hands to help them through. However, fisheries disaster processes can take years from the time the request is granted to when money actually makes into peoples’ hands—and that’s too long, Goen said. While the fleet is looking at some other options for revenue, such as using crab vessels for research and diversifying into other fisheries where possible, ABSC is working on a potential avenue to get that disaster funding faster. “We need money in pockets within six months to a year, much like what farmers get or communities get when a hurricane comes through,” Goen said. “Fisheries disaster funding... takes two to four years. Our small family businesses are going to go out of business by that time.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Bristol Bay king and snow crab fisheries close due to low numbers

Two of the largest crab fisheries in Alaska will be completely closed this season as stocks continue to decline. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced closures in the Bering Sea snow crab fishery and the Bristol Bay red king crab fisheries on Oct. 10. The fisheries usually begin in mid-October. Fish and Game has the final say on whether a fishery goes forward, and there just weren’t enough crab to allow for seasons in those two fisheries, according to the announcements. This is the second year of complete closure for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, but the first for the formerly booming Bering Sea snow crab fishery. Fish and Game said in its announcement it will continue to work with the crab industry during the rebuilding phase, including on potential plans for fishing during periods of low abundance. “Understanding crab fishery closures have substantial impacts on harvesters, industry, and communities, ADF&G must balance these impacts with the need for long-term conservation and sustainability of crab stocks,” Fish and Game said. “Management of Bering Sea snow crab must now focus on conservation and rebuilding given the condition of the stock.” Over the last two years, Bering Sea crab fishermen have been watching increasingly dismal survey data come back. The Bristol Bay red king crab stocks have been declining for years, and last year brought the first complete closure in decades. Snow crab harvesters, however, were shocked last year when the survey data showed that a massive portion of the mature snow crab had either died or disappeared from the survey findings. The National Marine Fisheries Service officially determined that the Bering Sea snow crab stock was overfished because of its low abundance. That triggered the process to start developing a rebuilding plan to help get the stock back to sustainable levels. The plan for rebuilding is still underway, but the most recent survey data shows a continued decline into this year. Katie Palof, a federal fisheries researcher and a co-chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Crab Plan Team, told the council at its meeting Oct. 6 that the mature male biomass—essentially, the total estimated weight of all mature male snow crabs—dropped another 40% from last year to this year, reaching another record low. All surveyed abundance was at or near all-time lows, she said. “Overall, (it’s a) pretty dire situation for snow crab,” she said. There isn’t a clear understanding why the stock is declining so drastically. The Bering Sea experienced a massive marine heat wave in 2019, which is still dispersing, even though sea temperatures are beginning to return to normal now. At the same time, some research has linked the crab mortality event to a combination of the changing sea temperature and the high crab density at the time. Prior to the major mortality event, snow crab stocks were growing. Though mature crab fell again, especially among mature males — the population that fishermen target — there are some young snow crab in the survey, said Mike Litzow, a researcher and the other co-chair of the council’s Crab Plan Team. There were essentially no immature female crab in the survey last year, and they increased by nearly 8,700% this year; mature females were down 16%, though. Palof said there are some young snow crab present, but it will take four to five years before those would be mature and could be surveyed again to see if they survive long enough to be harvestable. Fishermen and other industry stakeholders asked the council to offer as much flexibility to Fish and Game as they could to open even a limited fishery this year. Most who testified were concerned that if the fisheries are closed for multiple years, crews and supporting businesses will move on, essentially dismantling the infrastructure that exists to support the fishery now. Nikolai Sivertstol, a board member for the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told the council to consider that most of the crab harvesters are small businesses. “We do not have the cushions to weather years on end of inactivity,” he said. “Our crews will move on. The banks will shun us. The businesses in all the local communities that support us will have to move on, too.” While several members noted that they did hear and consider the concerns of the fishermen, it was not ultimately up to them about whether to open the fishery — they just set the limits, and then Fish and Game determines the seasons based on its harvest strategy. Council member Bill Tweit said he wished the conversations about how to open a small fishery during times of low abundance could have been happening six months ago, rather than a week before the fishery was due to open. “At this point, the idea of a limited fishery is very much right now in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “What looks limited to one group may not look limited to another, and one form of a limited fishery may not meet the objectives of another.” Rachel Baker, a deputy commissioner with Fish and Game who represents the agency on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, said the agency does consider the economic and social impacts and is working with the crab industry through the time of low crab numbers. “I think I speak for all council members in saying that we continue to be very concerned about the low abundance of many Bering Sea crab stocks,” she said. In addition to the snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab closures, the St. Matthew Island section blue king crab and Pribilof district red and blue king crab seasons will remain closed. The Bering Sea tanner crab fishery will open with a total allowable catch of about 2 million pounds, split between the areas west of the 166 west longitude line and those to the east. The eastern portion will have a TAC of about 1.16 million pounds, while the areas to the west will have a TAC of 850,000, according to Fish and Game. The Bering Sea tanner crab fishery is scheduled to open October 15. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Fisheries Service speeds up reporting time for salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea

New technology will help speed up the turnaround time for genetic data on the salmon bycatch in Bering Sea fisheries, which could help managers and fishermen make more informed decisions about how and where to best avoid those salmon. Scientists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, part of the National Marine Fisheries Service, regularly release genetic breakdowns of the salmon bycatch by the commercial fishing fleet in the Bering Sea. That genetic data helps inform managers about which stocks of salmon are being caught in high-seas fisheries, which can be important for helping to conserve stocks that are less abundant. However, that data has been complex and slow to produce for a long time—until recently, it’s taken about 18 months from collection to release, which means that data is about two seasons out.  Now, scientists can turn around that same data in about six months. Wes Larson, the program manager for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s genetics program, said the way it’s gone in the past, Chinook salmon data from 2022 would normally have come out in 2024; now, it should come out in June 2023. “As federal scientists, we get to work with the observers, but they only get data so fast,” he said. “It's a lot different than (the Alaska Department of Fish and Game), who get samples in-season. For chum, for example, the chum all get caught between June and September, but we don't see the samples in our lab until March.” The salmon samples are collected by on-board observers on the commercial fishing vessels — typically, the trawlers fishing for pollock. Then, when the vessel docks, the samples are turned over to collectors, who then pass it to NMFS. In the past year, the scientists have worked on incorporating a new technology called Genotyping-in-Thousands to the labs, to process much larger groups of individual salmon than in the past.  “Essentially just more efficiently— (it processes) more samples more efficiently,” he said. “We do process a few more than we used to, and also the flexibility that the new software uses allow us to slice it and dice it to look at more variables.” Bycatch is defined as any species of fish caught in a fishery that is not a target species—essentially, anything the fishery is not allowed to keep or can’t sell. Chinook and chum salmon are frequently taken as bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, and while many stocks are represented in it, the fishery has drawn a lot of attention because it includes Yukon and Kuskokwim river salmon stocks. Those two stocks have seen massive shortfalls in the last few years—so much so that subsistence and targeted commercial fishing have been closed, but the fish are still taken as bycatch. In 2021, directed pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands caught about 543,043 chum salmon as bycatch and about 13,783 Chinook salmon. Only a small percentage of those — about 9.4%, according to NMFS — came from Western Alaska rivers like the Yukon and Kuskokwim, but with complete closures due to salmon shortfalls in the subsistence and directed fisheries, many fishermen have cried foul at management meetings. In response, Alaska Native tribal representatives have called for hard caps on salmon bycatch in the pollock fishery, among other restrictions, which so far the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has declined to set. The council has established a new Salmon Bycatch Committee, which is currently seeking nominations for membership through Sept. 30. The committee would focus on bycatch issues that affect the council’s management of salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, with representation both from the commercial industry and from communities in Western Alaska. Appointments are due to be announced at the upcoming council meeting from Oct. 3-5 in Anchorage. Separately, Gov. Mike Dunleavy also commissioned a Bycatch Review Task Force at the state level to review and make recommendations about how to manage bycatch in the state’s various commercial fisheries. That task force is due to produce recommendations at the end of this year. Managers can use some of the bycatch data to help establish where salmon move, but if it’s not in real time, it can’t be responsive to in-season trends. One of the long-term possibilities for this data to is to build a predictive model — essentially, looking at patterns of salmon stock movements in the Bering Sea and using that data to help determine best practices for avoiding those stocks, Larson said. NMFS has established some patterns already in the Bering Sea chum salmon fishery.In general, most of the fish caught as bycatch in the Bering Sea are from Northeast Asia or the eastern Gulf of Alaska/Pacific Northwest region. Asian fish tend to be caught further west and earlier in the summer season, while the other stocks are further east and caught later. Some of the data shows so far that Western Alaska chum salmon may be more likely to be caught earlier in the summer and further east, but NMFS wants more data for more modeling.  Western Alaska’s stock of king salmon were the biggest contributor to bycatch in 2020, with a little more than half of the king salmon caught coming from there, according to NFMS. That tracks with the trend since 2017, which has seen more and more of the king salmon in bycatch coming from Western Alaska. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is scheduled to meet in Anchorage starting Oct. 3. However, a more detailed report about chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea isn’t expected until the council’s December meeting.  Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Homer looks to expand harbor to build its marine economy

Homer is looking to expand its harbor space for large vessels, which would create more opportunity for economic development for the Kenai Peninsula town by keeping more boat business local. The project would open up a new branch of Homer’s existing harbor, which currently only houses vessels up to 86 feet in length. There are vessels longer than that in the harbor most days, but they’re not given permanent moorage — instead, they’re tied up to the transient floats. That’s not ideal for those larger boats, and the city has been looking since 2004 for ways to house them better so they don’t have to homeport elsewhere in Alaska or go to the Lower 48 for repair work. The expansion project would include a space for large vessels to moor, more industrial space and a deepwater dock expansion, among other improvements. It would extend off the existing small boat harbor to the east. The city has been looking at the project since 2004, but the last time they did, the economics didn’t work out to make it feasible. Now it’s looking more possible. The city is asking for federal funding as well as support from other local governments to pay for a $3 million general investigation— a feasibility study — that would be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Bryan Hawkins, the harbormaster for Homer, said the City of Homer has committed to $750,000 and requested another $750,000 from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget, with the other expected from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through a federal appropriation. One of the key changes since 2004 is the availability of a local quarry with quality stone. Building a breakwater in a harbor requires specific types of rock, and now, there is a quarry in Kamishak Bay — just across Cook Inlet from Homer — that could provide that stone, Hawkins said. Federally funded projects also have specific criteria for the type of material they’re allowed to use. “Rock is not just rock — a lot of our rock doesn’t have enough granite in it ... it will break down,” he said. “If you build a breakwater out of of it, your breakwater will actually sink — it will crumble and it will fail. It’s got really specific criteria for the type of stone that can be used.” That would bring down the cost of the project a lot, though the city still don’t have an exact figure of what it will cost. That would come after the feasibility study is completed because there are variables that could change as a result of that study, Hawkins said. The demand for mooring space is huge in Homer. All 874 stalls are taken, and more than 400 people pay a fee to be on a waiting list for a slip each year, Hawkins said. Part of that demand comes from the local commercial fishing fleet, which grew by more than 42% between 2008 and 2018, according to the City of Homer. There’s also major demand for space for pleasure craft like sailboats and sportfishing boats, but the number of vessels too long for any stall has doubled. The commercial fishing fleet is one major arm of Homer’s economy. Salmon drifters and seiners, halibut longliners, and Gulf of Alaska groundfish vessels all homeport in Homer, and some even homeport there that participate in fisheries further afield. Tourism, another major component, brings a large number of charter vessels, water taxis and other vessels there, as well. The current facilities also have a deepwater dock that can house cruise ships and larger vessels, up to 800 feet long, although Homer has not seen cruise ship traffic since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Altogether, the port grosses $5 million for the city of Homer each year, Hawkins said. But the economic impacts go beyond that, as spending at the harbor and wages paid to crew and staff cause a ripple effect, as do the jobs created from working on vessels that might otherwise go elsewhere. “It’s hard to (estimate the total economic impact), because it’s not just about moorage,” he said. “This business is not just about boats in harbor. It’s what they bring in. The real spending is in the maintenance and in the crew wages and all the commerce that happens from that dollar being re-spent around the state, as it does.” That part is what the Homer Marine Trades Association wants to emphasize. The organization, led by businesses connected to the fishing and other marine industries, focuses on education and opportunities for more marine-based economic activity in the Homer area. For years, the group has been marketing Homer as a vessel repair and construction hub for Alaska, advertising the services available through its businesses and at the harbor. If the large vessel port expansion project is completed, it would generate another $2.75 million annually in business activity, the group estimates, in addition to providing space for enough vessels that currently go elsewhere to generate $3.5 million annually. “Port expansion will meet market demands of the marine industrial transportation sector, address navigational hazards and capture economic opportunities currently being lost while simultaneously advancing Alaska’s (and the nation’s) competitive position,” the group states on its website. “This project will positively impact the lives and livelihoods of countless Alaskans through job creation, economic development and benefit national security interests well into the future.” Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the Lower 48 states combined, but only a handful of ports and harbors. Hawkins said the lack of space has long been an issue for Alaska’s marine industries. “The only mistake we’ve ever made in building harbors in Alaska is building them too small,” he said. “What we’re trying to focus on here is building a next-generation large vessel harbor.” In addition to building out its moorage space, the large vessel port expansion project could position Homer to be another docking point for barges that supply much of Alaska’s food and other goods. Currently, nearly all of Alaska’s food supply is shipped up by barge through the Port of Alaska in Anchorage. Hawkins said that Homer serves as a contingency landing point for some of the major shipping companies in the event that they can’t reach the Anchorage port, but it would like to be more than that in the future. The city is hoping to secure all the funding for the general investigation report through the upcoming federal budget process and allow the Army Corps to begin its work, which Hawkins estimated could take about three years. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Bycatch task force works toward recommendations

The state’s task force focused on reducing and managing bycatch in commercial fisheries is working toward a set of recommendations this fall. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an administrative order forming the task force last winter, and the group has been meeting since January this year. Representatives come from a variety of sectors and industries, including commercial fisheries, recreational, community development quota groups and Native groups, among others. The 15 members divided up into committees early on, and are working on specific topics within Alaska’s sprawling commercial fisheries sector before coming up with a single set of recommendations. Bycatch is a multifaceted and thorny problem in Alaska’s fisheries and politics. Recently, the topic came to a head because of the complete shutdown of subsistence and commercial fishing in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers due to very low chum and king salmon returns, which are major supports for the Native communities around Southwestern Alaska. Ire turned toward the Bering Sea commercial fleets, particularly the pollock fleet, which catch Yukon River chums as bycatch. The controversy extends to king salmon as well, which are in short supply in most rivers coast-wide and are another species that shows up in Bering Sea bycatch. Linda Kozak, who represents halibut fishermen on the bycatch task force, told the members that they should aim to have all the committee work done by the end of September, on track for a full set of recommendations from the task force by November. “If we don’t set some deadlines for ourselves, we’ll never get there,” she said. “I don’t want us to end up in November half done with our job and having to just end because we don’t have any time left.” The governor’s original administrative order sets up the task force to run for a year, expiring in December. There are several priorities emerging among the committee reports, after the committee members heard reports from scientists, industry and regulation experts. The subcommittee focusing on Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska crab has highlighted three bycatch recommendations so far: developing state bycatch research priorities across departments, implementing strategies for cooperative research to reduce bycatch and associated mortality, and creating methods for collaboration to track ongoing research such as an annual workshop. Kozak, who delivered the committee report, said multiple presenters and commenters requested the collaboration opportunity such as the annual workshop and having the state coordinate tracking of various bycatch research projects. “One suggestion that was made at a recent committee meeting was that possibly the department could put on an annual meeting where tribes, communities, industry, individuals could come together with the state of Alaska and talk about bycatch research and priorities. It would help to inform and form the department’s position on bycatch research,” she said. Stephanie Madsen, who represents the trawl sector, said one of the reasons for the first recommendation — developing research priorities across state departments, not just the Alaska Department of Fish and Game — is because more than just fishing happens in state waters, such as transportation corridors and permitting. The other committees are also working on their recommendations, which will be sent to the whole task force to be synthesized into a final set of recommendations. Kevin Delaney, who represents sportfishing interests, said he sees a pattern emerging among reports to the committees and suggested sorting research types into four categories: avoidance, reducing handling mortality, communication technology and tracking. He defined communication technology as “anything that helps managers, researchers, the fleet, processors communicate with each other in a real-time basis to transmit the data on encounters, to transmit the data of avoidance strategies… communication technology that allows the fleet to operate in concert, in real time.” “I think if you look at those four bins, take a look at the proposed research, you’re going to find a subset of the total that we’ve seen today falls into one or more of those bins rather nicely, and I’d hate to lose that in an effort to duplicate some greater-good kind of work that’s out there and lose the bycatch focus that this task force was designed to have,” Delaney said. Kozak said she appreciated Delaney’s suggestion and said gear modification research could also be a consideration. In the pot cod fishery and directed fishery, she said there are various ways to modify gear that allow for “on-bottom sorting”—blocking halibut or crab from entering the pots while fishing for cod, for example. “I think those are areas that we could easily begin to encourage the state to work with industry and with others in developing research projects that would be fitting the three different principles we’re trying to promote, of allowing for better industry-agency cooperative programs to help reduce bycatch,” Kozak said. Brian Gabriel, who represents the city of Kenai and is a commercial fisherman, said he supported the ongoing use of experimental fishing permits that allow for fishermen to try out different types of gear through a special permitting program, especially as they pertain to bycatch. However, he noted that the cost of trying out those programs is borne by the fisherman, which can be a burden. “I believe the fishermen on the ground can certainly work to help themselves,” he said. “A little bit of innovation can go a long way.” The task force will meet again on Oct. 12 in Anchorage for an in-person meeting and listening session. Committee reports will be posted ahead of time and the public can make comments at that meeting. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

As sockeye taper off, overall salmon harvest ahead of last year

As summer begins to fade, the salmon season has reached a lull but is still significantly ahead of last year’s harvest by this time. As of the end of July, the statewide salmon harvest is 24% higher than it was in 2021, according to a season update produced for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute by McKinley Research Group. That’s almost entirely due to the boom of sockeye salmon harvested in Bristol Bay, which broke its all-time harvest record this year with a total harvest of about 59 million sockeye. However, Bristol Bay has tapered off, with most salmon fisheries around the state beginning to transition to pink salmon harvest in mid-August. “This year’s harvest had been following the trajectory of the five-year-average before falling below the baseline (in late July),” the update from McKinley Research states. “Pink harvests remain strong compared to recent averages in Prince William Sound (in particular the seine fishery), but all the state’s other main pink salmon fishing areas are behind 2020 levels.” More than half the pink salmon statewide so far have been harvested in Prince William Sound. As of Sunday, fishermen there — mostly in the seine fleet — had harvested about 24.9 million pink salmon, with the Westward region coming in second at about 8.5 million pinks harvested. Southeast fishermen have harvested about 6.6 million so far, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The pink harvest is below-average for both regions by this time; Southeastern managers projected a weak run of pinks for 2022, and the harvest of about 2.5 million pinks in the South Alaska Peninsula area is less than half of its recent 5-year average. A major contributor to Prince William Sound’s success so far is a booming hatchery run, particularly from the Valdez Fisheries Development Association’s run. The association reached its cost recovery goal by July 11, and Fish and Game estimates that the total commercial common property harvest on that run is 17.75 million fish, just shy of double the preseason estimate of 9.9 million fish. Chum salmon harvest statewide is behind last year at this time, too, largely because of a run failure in the Yukon River and a much smaller harvest so far in the Alaska Peninsula area. However, one area that is outperforming expectations for this year in Southeast—particularly the Southeast troll fishery. They’re largely targeting returning hatchery salmon, with focus on the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association’s runs over the last few weeks. Grant Hagerman, the area management biologist for the Southeast troll fishery, said one of the reasons the run may be larger is because one brood year from about four years ago did really well, and while some of those fish returned last year, others decided to wait until this year. Overall sizes are up from last year by nearly a pound for chums, too. Fisheries data shows that the average weight of a chum salmon — which is round weight, or the weight of the whole fish — is about 7.4 pounds per fish, which is up about .8 pounds from the average last year. “This particular run that’s coming back, the average weights are up, prices are up,” Hagerman said. “It’s been pretty profitable for these trollers to switch to targeting chum.” Average weights are up for both Chinook and coho salmon, too, both of which the trollers also target. However, the fishery is seeing more fishermen switch to targeting the chum run. Hagerman said this could be for several reasons—one of which is because the chum tend to run closer to port than Chinook and coho, which saves the fishermen gas, which has skyrocketed in cost this year. Another is that while the price for chum has increased this year, the prices for Chinook and coho have stayed relatively level. The reported price for chum may set a record at $1.20 per pound. Last year, the average reported exvessel price was $1.09, according to Fish and Game. Because of the growing hatchery runs, increasing prices, and better accessibility, the chum fishery has been growing among trollers, Hagerman said. Last year, they saw about 500,000 chums harvested and about a $6 million value, which was large for this fishery. Already this year, they’re looking at about 151,000 fish harvested and $2 million value over the last two weeks, with several more weeks to go, he said. However, like other areas of Alaska, those increased weights for chum, coho and Chinook in the Southeast troll fishery may be only a one-year blip; the long-term trend is still downward. The current chum weight for the trollers, though higher, is still about 1.4 pounds below the historical average. That’s true for Chinook and coho as well. Elsewhere in Alaska, such as in Bristol Bay, other species are also reporting lower average weights compared to historical averages. Southeast hosts fisheries year-round for various species, but the salmon season coast-wide is beginning to head toward its end. With pink salmon season in full swing in Prince William Sound, other areas are looking to transition away from sockeye and target coho. In Upper Cook Inlet, commercial fishermen started transitioning to coho salmon management after Aug. 1. It’s been a tough season for commercial fishing in Upper Cook Inlet — because of poor king salmon returns and provisions in the management plan, setnetters have been closed since July 17, and the drift gillnet fleet has seen lower participation than usual in part because of uncertainty in management at the beginning of the season. Drift gillnetters have been fishing more in the last few weeks as managers try to control sockeye escapement into the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Both rivers have now exceeded their escapement goals, with the Kasilof reaching more than double the upper end of its escapement goal. Fishermen have harvested about 1.39 million salmon, 1.1 million of which are sockeye, the vast majority of which have been harvested by the drift fleet. The Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund, a nonprofit representing commercial fishermen in the Inlet, requested a temporary restraining order against the state two weeks ago, asking that the court block the state from enforcing the closure on the setnetters. However, a judge in the Alaska Superior Court denied the request after a hearing on Aug. 1. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Bristol Bay breaks daily harvest record for 2nd year running

As its season ramps up to its peak, Bristol Bay is already breaking single-day harvest records for sockeye salmon. Fishermen in the Nushagak district harvested more than 2.4 million sockeye in a single day on June 30 — smashing the record from last year by more than 600,000 fish. It’s the most sockeye harvested in a single day in the district in its 130-year history, according to Tim Sands, the area management biologist for the west side of the Bay for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “With the information we have now, we’re on track for the big forecast,” he said. “Whether we continue to stay on track the next several days remains to be seen. “ As of Saturday, there has been a total run of 13 million in the Nushagak already, “and I don’t think we’re halfway done,” Sands said. So far, an estimated 29 million sockeye have returned to the various stream systems across Bristol Bay. The Nushagak district tends to be the largest for participation, with 880 permits registered to fish there as of Monday. That’s more than double the next largest district, Egegik, which has 336 permits registered as of Monday. The large harvests are on track with the forecast this year — a total run of about 75 million fish, the largest in Bristol Bay’s history. Despite the increased numbers, the fleet and industry have been able to handle it so far, Sands said. Based on simple math on what was harvested by the drift gillnet fleet, that’s about 3,300 fish per boat on June 30, when they broke the record. Harvests have ramped back down, hitting 892,000 on Saturday and rebounding to a little over 1 million on Sunday. It’s still early in the Bristol Bay season, but samples of fish harvested so far are showing that the fish are smaller than the long-term average again. Stacy Vega, a biologist with Fish and Game in King Salmon, said the average is about 4.9 pounds so far. The predominant age class are 5-year-old fish, which is a year older than the leading age class last year so far, she said. “We’re seeing more of those than forecasted certainly, but the Nushagak is a big component of that,” she said. “As far as how that relates to fish size, obviously a 3-ocean fish is bigger than a 2-ocean fish. Of weights and lengths at age, they’re smaller than average. That’s true with every age class we see. The weight and length at age is smaller than historical averages.” The managers extended fishing time last week to account for high winds making fishing conditions difficult for shore-based setnetters, Sands said. Despite the high temperatures and dry conditions elsewhere in the state, he said the temperatures have stayed low and the area has more snowpack than it did during the last hot year in 2019, when high stream temperatures disrupted salmon migration, so the managers aren’t as concerned about that so far. While the total value of the harvest isn’t determined until after the season, when post-season price adjustments are paid to fishermen, harvesters for Peter Pan Seafoods are receiving a base price of $1.15 per pound at the dock. The processor announced an initial base price of $1 in mid-June, then upped it to $1.15 last week. Prince William Sound’s harvests are also climbing, with the sockeye run strengthening in the Copper River and chum harvests climbing. Managers wrote in a July 1 update that the sockeye escapement is above the forecast, with 623,202 fish counted so far. Fishermen have harvested 455,000 sockeye so far in the Copper River District, over halfway to the forecasted harvest of 716,000 sockeye for the season. That’s significantly below the recent 10-year average for the area, though, which would be just over 1 million sockeye. Chum harvests are also up from 2021 in the area, with 1.175 million chum harvested so far. That’s 34% more than what were harvested by the same date last year, according to a market analysis from the McKinley Research Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institution. However, chum harvests are overall down from last year, mostly due to shortfalls in the Alaska Peninsula and Southeast so far. The Alaska Peninsula has seen a boom of chum salmon in the last five years, but the current harvest is on track with the 10-year average, according to Fish and Game. Chum salmon overall harvests have been low in Southeast so far. Upper Cook Inlet’s season is nearly fully underway, with all the gear types set to open in the coming week. The drift gillnet fleet has been in the water for a few weeks, and the northern district has been in since late May, but the Upper Subdistrict setnets — the ones along the beaches from Kasilof up to Nikiski — are only partially open. Setnetters in the Kenai section won’t open until July 8. Even when they do, due to tightened restrictions on king salmon fishing in the Kenai River, they’re limited to 24 total hours of fishing per week, which usually translates to two 12-hour fishing periods, issued by emergency order only. Fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet have harvested a total of 71,221 so far, most of which are sockeye. The drift fleet so far is lagging behind the setnetters, though the drift fleet tends to be the dominant harvester later in the year. The Kenai River run, which is the largest, is also just kicking off, with about 15,000 salmon having been counted on the sonar since it started counts on July 1. Kodiak fishermen are on target for average harvests of sockeye so far, according to Fish and Game. As of June 30, they’ve harvested 438,000 sockeye; they’ve also harvested 88,000 chum, which is below average. Nearby on the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik has not had any openers yet due to low early sockeye salmon returns. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Court sides with Cook Inlet salmon drifters, reopening contested area

Management of Cook Inlet is again in question after a district court judge threw out the rule that would have closed the Inlet’s federal waters to commercial salmon fishing. The summary judgment, released Tuesday, sides with the plaintiffs from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, a trade association representing the approximately 500 drift gillnet permit holders in Cook Inlet. UCIDA sued the National Marine Fisheries Service last year after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the body that manages fisheries in federal waters, moved to approve a rule that would close federal waters of Cook Inlet to all commercial salmon fishing. Judge Joshua Kindred granted UCIDA’s request to vacate the rule closing the waters, saying the rule that the Fisheries Service had established was arbitrary, capricious and based in politics. Part of the reason for this was that in Cook Inlet, unlike elsewhere, the closure only applied to the commercial salmon fishery, not to the recreational one. “While the State is certainly a stakeholder and should have input into the rulemaking, and federal agencies and State governments must work together to effectuate management of salmon stocks, it appears here that the State had an overriding interest in which alternative was selected,” the judgment states. “Furthermore, the record clearly establishes that (the rule chosen) was crafted as a thinly veiled attempt to ensure an absence of federal management, which conflicts with the Ninth Circuit’s holding in (UCIDA’s previous case.)” This is not the first time UCIDA has been to court over this issue. It began more than a decade ago, when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed an amendment to its management plan that entirely delegated management of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery to the state. UCIDA, which disagreed with aspects of state management, sued and said that move was illegal; in 2016, a panel of federal judges agreed. [Earlier coverage: Commercial fishermen outraged by state proposal to close much of Cook Inlet] The rule went back before the council in 2017, which took nearly three years to come up with a new analysis and set of potential options for management. The fishermen and state and federal representatives worked together on a committee throughout to come up with options. However, during the council discussion, state of Alaska representatives said publicly for the first time that they wouldn’t agree to any kind of delegated management. The council instead opted in December 2020 to close the fishery area entirely. The federal waters are economically important to the fishery. Depending on the year, about half of the value of the salmon catch for the drift fleet would come out of the federal waters, which would have been off-limits under the rule. Erik Huebsch, the vice president of UCIDA, said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling but was pleased by its thoroughness. “This was a very thorough ruling, and I thought that was important and I was really glad to see it,” he said. However, what it means for the management of the fishery isn’t entirely clear. Huebsch says he didn’t think it pushes them back to square one — after all, affected groups and government representatives did nearly three years of work on options for management — but it does have to go back to the council now. Representatives for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game couldn’t be reached for comment on the case. On Wednesday, Fish and Game announced an opening for the Upper Cook Inlet drift fishery on Thursday — including in federal waters — known as the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. “Please check with the appropriate federal agency regarding the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) decision,” the announcement says. A representative for the National Marine Fisheries Service said the agency would not comment. Huebsch said UCIDA doesn’t want to see entirely federal management in the fishery, but the organization has argued for a long time that the state has been managing the fishery politically, in favor of the sport fishery. He said this new ruling helps confirm that UCIDA is in the right about the fishery’s management. “The court has ruled once again that UCIDA’s position on salmon management here in Cook Inlet is legitimate and what the NPFMC and the state of Alaska has been doing is illegal,” he said. “The court has proven us right again, and this is even a stronger ruling than the last one.” Though the summary judgment vacates the rule closing Cook Inlet’s federal waters, the judge denied part of UCIDA’s allegations related to the National Environmental Policy Act. UCIDA argued that the rule violated NEPA because the federal government failed to complete an environmental impact statement, but the judge said the group failed to establish why that was necessary. The case was actually two consolidated into one: A second group of fishermen brought their own case against the Fisheries Service last year on the same topic, but making a different legal argument. The second case argued that the rule was illegal because of the standing of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council members under the constitution. The judge dismissed the second case, saying the plaintiffs did not have standing to make the argument. Upper Cook Inlet’s salmon season is just kicking off, with sockeye beginning to arrive in the Kasilof River. As of Thursday, between the northern district setnetters and the drift fleet, only 14,943 salmon had been harvested, 13,418 of which were sockeye. Fish and Game hasn’t started counting the sockeye on the Kenai River yet, but the Kasilof River counts are ticking up, with 36,291 sockeye having passed the sonar as of Wednesday, according to Fish and Game. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Scientists point to climate as likely cause for snow crab decline as managers work to rebuild devastated stocks

Even as scientists are still trying to figure out why the Bering Sea snow crab stock crashed in 2021, federal managers are working on a plan to help rebuild it. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council last week voted to accept alternatives for analysis on its snow crab rebuilding plan — a middle step before implementing an actual plan that will change fishing regulations or openings. The council is on track to approve a final plan for action in December, which would then go to the Secretary of Commerce and through the federal regulation process before becoming official. Data from last year’s survey at this point seems to confirm that there was a massive decline in the number of young snow crab in the Eastern Bering Sea—something like 99% fewer female snow crab showed up in the survey from 2021. There’s no complete consensus about why the stock crashed in the first place. Increasingly, however, the models seem to indicate that it’s due to temperature increases linked to climate change. In a presentation to the council on June 10, Mike Litzow, the lab director for the National Marine Fisheries Service lab in Kodiak, told the council that researchers have run some models on what he called the “borealization” of the southeast Bering Sea, which is the conversion of the Bering Sea from an Arctic ecosystem to a subarctic ecosystem in the face of increasing ocean temperatures. “The current understanding in climate science is that you cannot get the Bering Sea as warm as it was in 2014–2020 in a preindustrial ocean,” Litzow said. “We’re seeing the effects of global warming playing out in the Bering Sea.” The Bering Sea experienced abnormally high temperatures for several years in a row, notably in 2015-2016 and in 2019, though the last few years have been colder than usual, as well. Overall, climate modelers are showing that extreme temperatures in the Bering Sea are likely to become more frequent, though just how frequent depends on the level of continued carbon emissions. Of all the models to explain the high mortality, high temperatures seemed to correlate best, Litzow said. It doesn’t explain the exact mechanics of why the temperature variations seem to be correlated with higher crab deaths, but one thing that does show up is that the stress seems to be when higher temperatures continue for a few years. Litzow stressed that there isn’t a good population dynamic model for snow crab and they still need more data. “It was when we saw those multiple years (of abnormally high temperatures), from 2018, 2019, 2020, that we got the apparent collapse of the stock and the apparent mass mortality of snow crab,” he said. “With the very little information that we have, it does appear that multiple-year events are more deleterious for the population than individual-year events.” Another cause that some fishermen have indicated is predation on young crab from increasing numbers of Pacific cod in the Bering Sea. However, a report from the council’s Crab Plan Team for its June meeting noted that most of the crab missing from the survey were thought to be above the size range vulnerable to being eaten by Pacific cod. Bitter crab disease, a common disease caused by a parasite, was also noted as one potential cause for the massive uptick in mortality. But that, too, doesn’t seem to pan out—the Crab Plan Team report notes that the peak in observed bitter crab disease doesn’t match the timing of the decline. Finally, a common outcry has been against the trawl fleet, which does take crab as bycatch in the Bering Sea. Scientists in the Crab Plan Team also note that “the declining trend in observed bycatch …seems to match poorly with the snow crab decline.” That doesn’t account for all unobserved mortality, such as bottom trawling gear contacting and damaging soft-shell crabs; researchers are still working on modeling for this population. The council accepted two alternatives for further analysis in a final rebuilding plan. One is a no-action, which wouldn’t be allowed but is required to be considered; the other would specify a rebuilding time, either with or without a fishery targeting snow crab. Bycatch would be allowed in either case. The council is also looking for more information on some specifics, including what it would be like to remove the floor set for bycatch and counting all crab caught as bycatch throughout their range toward the bycatch limit. Both of those came at the urging of the industry. Multiple fishermen and representatives asked the council to consider allowing a slightly longer time frame for recovery, which might allow for a limited fishery targeting snow crab. The council was initially discussing setting a recovery period of within ten years, but some commenters urged them to stretch that out to allow some flexibility for a fishery. If the council allowed the recovery time to stretch out longer, it might allow for more fishing, which could help prop up the industry. Jaime Goen, the executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, told the council that the crab industry is reeling from the revenue loss both in the snow crab fishery and the complete closure of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery this year. What hurt was the suddenness — a few years ago, the crab stocks were looking hopeful and like a good investment, and many business people and crew members bought in with the hopes those investments would pay off, she said. “Now those same people are facing bankruptcy,” she said. “This is unprecedented in the United States for a mature, rationalized fishery to suffer a stock collapse, in part due to climate change. We risk losing the resource and the crab industry if the council does not act swiftly and aggressively to rebuild crab stocks.” The municipalities in the Bering Sea also feel the loss of the crab fisheries. Frank Kelty, representing the city of Unalaska, urged the council to consider options that would allow for a directed fishery because of the ripple effects throughout a community, including on the crab industry. St. Paul Island, one of the Pribilof Islands and a major location for crab processing and refueling for the fleet, relies heavily on crab as well. The Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association is expecting about a 65% drop in revenue due to the crab quota cuts, according to representative Heather McCarty. Mateo Paz-Seldan, representing St. Paul, echoed Kelty, saying the community depends on the revenue from the crab fishery to keep services running for the several hundred year-round residents there. “There are no other sources of revenue for the community to keep the lights on and provide municipal services,” he said. The council accepted the motion unanimously, and is scheduled to revisit the snow crab issue in October. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Copper River salmon fishery starts slow but sees potential to ramp up

The first salmon fishery of Alaska’s season has started off with low sonar counts and fairly conservative management, but it’s beginning to pick up steam as the summer gets underway. The Copper River sockeye and king salmon fishery is the first each summer, kicking off around the third week of May. Because of that, the fishermen usually land a higher price per pound both for sockeye and kings. This year, the run for the Copper is predicted to be around or below average, and like elsewhere, the kings are scarcer than in past decades. This year is also seeing the sockeye run show up later than usual. Last weekend saw daily numbers increasing passing the Miles Lake sonar on the Copper River, reaching just shy of 39,000 sockeye Sunday, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That’s the highest daily count yet and puts the total count at about 153,000, ahead of the count at the same time in the last two years. Jeremy Botz, the commercial fisheries management biologist for finfish in the Copper River, said the managers were expecting the run to be several days late, so this isn’t a surprise. The Miles Lake sonar is far upriver from the delta, too, taking fish anywhere from three weeks to a month to reach, so the counts are somewhat delayed from what is happening in the commercial fishery at the mouth. However, the managers have been limiting commercial fishing opportunity until those counts come up. “(We’ve just had) one period a week for the last couple of weeks,” Botz said. “We did two the first week. Historically, that’s pretty conservative.” The cold spring led to lower water temperatures and higher icepack in the Copper River later than usual. That delayed Fish and Game a little in deploying one of the sonars to count sockeye, though Botz said both are now working and the models the biologists use account for that shortfall. Fishermen understand the reasoning behind that and are following the data as it comes in, said Jess Rude, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. “Our shared hope is always for a healthy run of sockeye,” she said. “Area E Fishermen are small business owners and closures impact them and our community greatly, but the long-term goal is maintaining a sustainable resource we can continue to fish into the future.” However, now that counts are going up, fishery effort and harvest may as well. As of Monday, 178,328 sockeye have been harvested in the Copper River district, with another fishing period ongoing that day. The managers also announced that the Chitina personal use dipnet fishery, one of the most popular in the state, would open from June 11-12 for 24 hours of fishing time. The prices have come down since the beginning of the season as more supply comes in. When the first fish were landed, some high-end retailers were offering kings for more than $100 per pound. Now, Copper River Seafoods is offering wild sockeye for $45.99 per pound and kings for $69.99. Pike’s Place online market is offering wild Copper River sockeye for $29.99 per pound and king for $79.95 per pound as of Monday. While the managers have good sonar data regarding sockeye, king salmon don’t have an official working sonar. There is a pilot project to enumerate kings funded by several industry organizations in partnership with Fish and Game, but it’s only a few years in, and the biologists want a full king salmon life cycle’s worth of data before they can decide whether to use it. Botz said they’re working on that and have been running the project since 2018, but can’t use the data to enumerate kings yet. As of Monday, Copper River fishermen have harvested 8,492 king salmon, according to Fish and Game. The run is predicted to be a little bit below average this year, with a projected return of between 23,000 and 58,000 fish. That cold spring that led to the chillier waters and late snowpack turned quickly into an early warm spell across Southcentral Alaska. Temperatures soared and reached the high 70s across much of the gulf coast. This week has brought clouds, rain, and some relief from soaring temperatures, but with the summer just beginning, temperatures could climb again. Three years ago, Prince William Sound saw one of its hottest and driest summers on record, leading to water shortages and above-average water temperatures in both the Sound and in some of the shallower, shorter stream systems. Salmon reportedly delayed going upstream, waiting for cooler water, and die-offs were noted in some systems, though Botz said they didn’t seem to have a major impact on the 2019 pink salmon brood year that returned last year. Though the area is headed into the summer after a heavy snow year, an extended hot and dry periods like that could see the return of those conditions. “All that snowpack is sort of like a savings account,” he said. “I was really optimistic about having lots of potential reserve snowpack throughout the summer in the Sound, but with this stretch of weather, if we have a dry summer, we could (see some difficulty with the short systems).” Elsewhere in Alaska, salmon fishermen are gearing up or just starting to hit the water. Kodiak is scheduled to have openers in a variety of areas, including sections of the Alitak and Afognak districts, starting Thursday; in Upper Cook Inlet, the northern district fishermen are landing sockeye and some kings, though in small numbers—less than 2,000 kings so far, and 257 kings. Lower Cook Inlet is scheduled to open next week. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Alaska cities tap into online sales taxes

Over the past few years, Alaska cities and boroughs have been able to tap into an extra source of tax revenue that was out of reach before: sales taxes for online retailers. Thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 2018, municipal governments are able to implement local taxes on sales that occur online. That presented logistical problems initially — typically, businesses register with a local government and pay quarterly, and with brick-and-mortar shops, they only have one or two local governments they have to register with. With a sprawling business such as Amazon, which sells to customers all over the world and in every tax jurisdiction in Alaska, that made getting into tax compliance more complicated. To make that easier, the Alaska Municipal League volunteered to serve as the central clearinghouse for that project. In its first year, AML collected about $10 million of sales taxes for the local governments that participate, all of which have their own varying tax levies and seasonal restrictions. Nils Andreassen, the executive director of AML, said the way the local governments are able to work together and streamline the process through the organization is unique to Alaska. “We’re the only state in the nation that is able to do this,” he said. Though one of AML’s most visible roles is in advocating for legislation and funding for local governments, it provides multiple shared services. The sales tax collection service joins an existing health trust, cybersecurity program, notary service and retirement service, among others. Last year, AML also created new programs to help with administering the federal CARES and American Recovery Plan Act funds. Andreassen said he sees the services as one of the core things AML does. “When I came on, I thought we were more of an advocacy organization,” he said. “We’re also a shared-service organization.” The online sales tax program has largely been successful, Andreassen said. Though only about 40 of the 165 member governments in Alaska participate, that’s in part because not all of them have sales taxes that fit with the remote sales tax collection model — notably, Anchorage and Fairbanks have no general sales taxes, though each have more specific sales taxes on items like alcohol and hotel rooms. AML’s remote sales tax collection program is only for general sales taxes. Pandemic shutdowns and resulting tourism losses led to sales tax drops in many municipalities. The ability to collect taxes on online sales has helped soften that blow, resulting in significant revenue bumps for some municipalities. The Kenai Peninsula Borough, for example, which implements a 3% sales tax areawide, is expecting between $2.5 million and $3 million in revenue from just the remote sales tax in the upcoming fiscal year. That’s about 7% of its total projected sales tax revenue, according to the borough’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. The revenue has been on an upward trend the last few years as well; in fiscal year 2022, the borough collected between $1.8 million and $2 million. The cities on the Kenai Peninsula each also have their own sales taxes, ranging between 3-4%. However, that wasn’t free to collect. Brandi Harbaugh, the finance director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, said the borough spent $480,000 in administrative collection fees. That tracks upward with the amount of sales tax collected, as well. Other municipalities are also taking advantage of the revenue. The City and Borough of Juneau estimated in November 2021 that it expected to collect more than $2 million in remote sales tax revenue based on its 5% tax levy in 2021. The city of Wasilla noted in its budget documents this year that it is expecting its sales taxes to increase, in part due to the increasing number of businesses being notified and participating in the remote sales tax program. Andreassen said the level of impact seems to vary by municipality, with the smaller and more remote areas being more affected than the larger communities on the road system, ranging between 5-20% of their total sales tax revenue. Municipalities generally also spend a lot of money and time collecting sales taxes from physical locations. To help lift some of that burden, AML is also offering a centralized service for collecting physical sales taxes from within communities. That essentially allows municipalities to sign up for a collection service that will collect sales tax and distribute it back to them in exchange for 2.5% of their total sales tax revenue. Andreassen said the purpose of the service is to help alleviate the burden on local governments, especially the smallest ones. “Out of the 106 local governments that have a sales tax, the majority of those are very small,” he said. The shared service also opens up the program to any kind of sales tax the municipality wants to enroll in, from bed taxes to tobacco to alcohol. That broadens the number of governments that can participate. So far, they have a handful signed up, including small cities such as Thorne Bay in Southeast and Selawik in the Northwest Arctic. Andreassen said he expects more local governments to sign up as time goes on — that was how it worked with the remote sales tax collection program, which now has more than 40 participants. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

All eyes on Bristol Bay after state predicts a record season, but fishery’s economics still in flux

The summer salmon season is due to ramp up in Alaska over the next few months, and the main focus of this year’s salmon fishery statewide will be on Bristol Bay sockeye. Of the 160.6 million salmon of all species that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts will be harvested in 2022, 74 million of those are sockeye and about three-quarters of those would come from Bristol Bay. Another 67.2 million are pink salmon, with the rest made up of smaller numbers of the other three species. If the forecast proves accurate, this will be the biggest year ever for the Bristol Bay fishery. With a total predicted return of more than 75 million and a projected harvest of about 60 million in the bay, it would blow away the existing total-run record of 66.1 million, and dwarf last year’s harvest of 40.4 million. Like all forecasts, it comes with a degree of uncertainty—salmon runs are inherently hard to predict—but it tracks with the upward trend in Bristol Bay the last five years. “We have used similar methods since 2001 to produce the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast, which have performed well when applied to Bristol Bay as a whole,” the biologists wrote in their forecast report for Bristol Bay. “Since 2001, our forecasts have, on average, underforecast the run by 12% and have ranged from 44% below the actual run in 2014 to 19% above the actual run in 2011.” The total number of fish isn’t the only factor to consider in the economics of the region, though. Last year, biologists recorded a significant drop in the average size and weight of sockeye harvested in the fishery — largely due to the fact that it was mostly younger fish coming back. Younger fish are typically smaller, which is worth less to the fishermen and to the processors. However, that banner forecast has sparked speculation about a high-value fishery this summer. Fishermen from other areas have been looking at ways to buy into the Bay over the last few years, pushing the average price for a permit above $232,000 this year. That’s the highest price since 1997, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. Processors have yet to announce a pre-season exvessel price, and it’s hard to know exactly what factors will go into setting what fishermen will be paid. Dan Lesh, an economist with the McKinley Group who tracks seafood, said there are a number of factors both domestically and internationally that go into shaping salmon prices on the market. For one, the amount farmed salmon in the supply chain affects wild salmon prices, and like other businesses, the farmed sector has had disruptions lately, he said. There are also concerns about transport logistics for wild-caught salmon, such as the pilot shortage. One factor that’s drawn speculation since February has been the ban on imported Russian seafood. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a number of countries — including the United States — have blocked the sale of any Russian seafood products. Historically, Russia has competed with the United States on salmon. While it does block much of the movement of products like snow crab, both U.S. and Russian salmon go through a middleman for processing before hitting shelves: China. After that salmon is sold into China for processing and reexport, it becomes hard to distinguish what is Russian and what is American, Lesh said. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says it’s too early to determine what the effect of that ban will be on the market for Alaskan seafood, said Ashley Heimbigner, its communications director. “Alaska and Russia are just two players in the larger global seafood trade and Alaska’s competitors have their eyes on the growing U.S. domestic market as well,” she said. “We can’t necessarily assume that product substitutions necessitated by the sanctions will result in significantly more Alaska purchases. However, ASMI will continue our work to increase the awareness and value of Alaska seafood throughout our markets.” The big flush of Bristol Bay sockeye into the market may affect the types of salmon products made, too. Processors have limited capacity, especially for a fish like salmon, where they all arrive at once. Lesh said the industry may see more emphasis on the frozen and canned products this year as opposed to the fresh market. One other challenge on the domestic side may be pressure from inflation. Americans have seen their grocery bills increase significantly in the last year, and while wages have increased as well, it’s not an even effect. Alaska wild-caught salmon tends to carry a higher price than other types of fish products. However, other types of meat have increased dramatically in cost recently—the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that across the board, meat products are expected to rise 4.5% to 6.5% in 2022. Lesh noted that wild salmon has not experienced as much of an increase, and may make it more competitive with other types of meat. “Besides crab, most of the price increases have been higher in other proteins, like steak,” he said. “You can substitute other low-cost seafood products (for Alaska salmon), but I don’t think our prices have gone up enough to worry.” Heimbigner said retail was a successful outlet for salmon during the pandemic, when restaurants and fresh seafood markets were shut down. Inflation, staffing and supply chain issues are affecting that sector, but she noted that one marketing opportunity is in frozen seafood. “Consumers are learning that there is no quality difference when it comes to frozen vs. fresh seafood, and in the case of seafood from Alaska where the catch is frozen just after it leaves the water, freezing locks in nutrients and preserves quality,” she said. “Along the same lines, tinned and canned seafood, like canned Alaska salmon, has seen a surge in popularity.” Alaska’s commercial salmon season kicked off Monday in the Copper River area, where drifters were able to get nets out for king salmon for a 12-hour period. The Copper River kings are the first of the season, and most years carry a premium price. For example, Pike’s Place Market in Seattle was reportedly offering a 1-pound fillet of Copper River king salmon for $129.99 on Monday. Elsewhere in Alaska, there are above-average pink salmon runs predicted for Lower Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Prince William Sound wild pinks. Kodiak’s sockeye salmon run predictions look close to average as well. Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon run is projected to be weak this year, as is Upper Cook Inlet’s sockeye salmon run. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Council asks industry for recommendations on Bristol Bay red king crab

After the first season closure for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery in decades, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is seeking more data on how to rebuild the stock and stabilize the fishery. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is historically one of the most valuable in the state, but for the last decade, the stock has been declining. Last fall, surveys showed that the female biomass of the stock had fallen below acceptable levels for harvest, and managers closed it. Stakeholders have been working with the council since to try to identify the best paths forward to rebuild the fishery and improve scientists’ understanding of how crab are moving and reproducing in the area. At the April NPFMC meeting, the council members approved a motion to ask the industry to come back with a list of voluntary actions harvesters and other industry stakeholders can take to help reduce bycatch of Bristol Bay red king crab and reduce discard mortality in the directed fishery. Industry stakeholders include not just the directed harvesters in the red king crab fishery, but also reach to the Pacific cod sector, pollock, and Amendment 80 fleets, which impact red king crab stocks based on area and bycatch rates. Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a representative for the state to the council, said the industry recommendations would come back by October. Baker’s motion also asks the council staff to expand the discussion paper to include a number of additional scientific aspects, including analysis of the impacts of seasonal closures to pelagic trawl, groundfish pot, and longline gear within a portion of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishing area called the Red King Crab Savings Area and a table for all sources of mortality for the crab across federal fisheries. Baker said there is a general recognition that more scientific information will be necessary to consider items like rolling or seasonal closures to protect mature female red king crab, which was proposed as a solution, and for the council to adequately weigh the costs against the benefits. “We know we lack information related to distribution of red king crab,” Baker said. “There is ongoing work … that you’ve heard about, and the state is a partner in that.” The directed harvesters are already taking on some voluntary measures to help reduce their discard mortality—essentially, the crab that are not kept because they are not of legal size but die anyway. Jaime Goen, the executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers Association, told the council at its meeting on April 9 that the harvesters are working with the other sectors to do the same, prioritizing protecting females, prioritizing mating opportunities, and protecting critical habitat. The reason for the stock decline in Bristol Bay is not entirely clear, with some looking to warming ocean temperatures while others point to fishery factors like bottom-trawl impact and bycatch. Goen asked the council to consider options they know they can control, such as adaptive management measures. “This stock is clearly and immediately in need of greater conservation and management,” she said. In their public comment to the council, the ABSC noted that the pot cod fleet voluntarily stayed out of the red king crab savings area and the subareas during the A season, both of which are important for red king crab. For the long-term, the association asked for the council to ban pelagic trawling entirely from the red king crab savings area and to prohibit all gear except longlines from that area when the directed fishery is closed. ABSC also asked for management measures like dynamic closures, protecting additional areas near Amak and Unimak islands from fishing impacts, and requiring pelagic trawl gear to be on the bottom no more than 10% of the time, among other measures. This season has been a hard one for many crabbers. Between the closure of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery and nearly 90% cut to the snow crab quotas in the Bering Sea due to poor survey numbers, the ABSC estimates that the industry lost about $200 million in revenue. While some crabbers say they understand the reason, it doesn’t lessen the impact. Siri Dammerell, a crabber, told the council her family has had to take on additional jobs and dip into their savings to make it through. “The cancellation of king crab hit us hard, and the lowering of (snow crab) hit us more,” she said. “We understand that there’s a need for rebuilding the BBRKC and urge you to act now, before it is too late.” The discussion paper released by the council for the April meeting outlines four areas of further consideration: Bristol Bay red king crab molting and mating, red king crab boundaries, bottom contact by pelagic trawl gear, and flexible spatial management measures in the fishery. The actual distribution of red king crab in Bristol Bay seems to be shifting to the north, according to the most recent survey data from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, including to some areas outside the current boundaries of the normal survey. The science is not settled as to whether those crab are actually Bristol Bay red king crab, though, or another stock, according to the discussion paper. The AFSC, Fish and Game, and the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation are working together on new tagging techniques to help understand the stock distribution and movement outside the normal summer trawl survey period, according to the discussion paper. The council accepted Baker’s motion and plans to hear back from the industry at the October meeting. Council member Kenny Down recognized that six months for feedback is not very long, and also recognized that the need for action in the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is urgent. “It’s not the decisions that we make that are going to haunt us — it’s the indecision,” he said. “Eventually, I do see that we’re going to have to make some hard decisions here regarding BBRKC, and potentially snow crab, as well.” The council is scheduled to meet again in June. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Senate picks back up bill to extend apprenticeships to high school students

A way expand opportunities for high school students to go into apprenticeships is getting renewed attention in the Legislature. House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, would require the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to work with public school districts to develop programs to allow students to complete high school credits and apprenticeships at the same time. Right now, most public school districts offer career and technical education classes such as construction and welding, but this would expand that into apprenticeships in real work environments. Fields said during a mid-March hearing before the Senate Education Committee that he got the idea from observing how South Carolina built a similar program after realizing it needed more apprenticeship availability to supply the automobile manufacturing industry with skilled workers. “In South Carolina, they embedded (an apprenticeship program) in the community college system, and they were very successful,” he said. “These are non-union apprenticeships and South Carolina, by putting this tax credit forward, took some risk off the table for employers.” Apprenticeships are a generally accepted training path for trade occupations such as plumbing and carpentry. They are federally regulated, so apprentices have to register with the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees requirements for training apprentices. In 2020, there were 1,932 active apprentices registered in Alaska spread across 318 programs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The House passed the bill in its current form during the last Legislative session, in May 2021. The Senate is considering it now, and is working on amendments to it in the Senate Education Committee. The version of the bill that passed the House instructed the state departments to work with public school districts on the apprenticeships, which would be available to students 14 and older who have completed eighth grade and meet the program requirements. For vocational programs, instructors would have to hold industry standard master skill certification or the equivalent. The House version also establishes a $1,250 tax credit per apprentice for businesses to incentivize participation. Fields said this is based on the South Carolina model. The bill has received broad support from trade unions and associations, including the Alaska AFL-CIO, the Associated of General Contractors of Alaska, the Association of Builders and Contractors, the Alaska State Pipe Trades Association, Alaska Ironworkers Local 751, the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association and the Mat-Su Borough School District, among others. Chris Dimond, the Alaska regional manager for the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, told the Senate Education Committee during an April 11 hearing that the bill could help to meet some of the demand for carpenters. He estimated that 200 to 300 carpenters are needed to fill the jobs on their books right now, and with more infrastructure money likely coming from the federal government soon, he said the need for more trained workers is serious. The training program could help students figure out what they’re interested in without fully committing, too, he said. Sometimes, new workers have come into the construction industry without fully understanding the demands, and left after a year or so, he said. “We see a lot of those folks drop out,” he said. “So creating these opportunities for students to be able to get these real-life job experiences to sort of be able to understand what the culture is like, what the physical demands are like, and so forth, I think will be a big help to backfill some of our workforce up here.” Apprenticeships aren’t just for construction trades, either. The Alaska Primary Care Association, which represents medical providers across the state, has apprentices working in practices everywhere from Barrow to Anchorage, Mari Selle, the chief of staff and Southcentral Alaska Health Education Center interim director, told the Senate Education Committee. In rural Alaska, health care facilities are already training their own employees out of the community. “In this environment where recruitment and retention in health care has been so difficult and is continuing to be so difficult, this really is an innovative way to recruit and retain workers into this really critical field of health care and human services,” Selle said. “When Alaska has strong state support and strong policies for apprenticeship, it puts us in a better position to garner federal funding.” Several of the senators expressed support for the core ideas of the bill, but reservations about the tax credit portion. Senate Education members introduced a committee substitute that removed the tax credit provision, among other changes. Fields said he would defer to the Senate’s decision about that section, though the program did have success in the models he’d based it on. The language about public schools also came up for debate. Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, noted that he was concerned about unfairly dividing students into categories based on what type of school their parents enroll them in, and asked about removing the “public” from the bill. Fields responded that his inclination would be to leave the “public” language in. The Legislature has oversight over public schools through the Department of Education and Early Development and appropriates money to support them, but does not do the same for private schools. Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Wasilla, agreed with Micciche and said students being privately home-schooled could benefit from these kinds of programs. “Part of the discussion was that they were pulling kids out of public school because traditional academic learning, book learning, doesn’t necessarily work for their children, that it’s more hands-on,” she said. “So I think there is absolutely a resource of future apprentices and people who would fit this type of work that could be drawn from the private schools and the private home-schools.” The bill is scheduled for another hearing before the Senate Education Committee on April 20. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Copper River Seafoods exits Cook Inlet, new processor steps in

The troubled Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishery is losing one processing company and gaining another ahead of its 2022 season. Copper River Seafoods announced March 28 that it will withdraw from its operations in Kenai and Kasilof this year. In a letter issued to the industry, CEO Scott Blake said the withdrawal was due to a combination of changes to the Cook Inlet management plan, rising production costs and a poor sockeye salmon forecast. The company will no longer buy salmon in Kenai, as it did last year; previously, the company bought fish in Kasilof as well, but stopped buying fish there mid-season in 2020. “We continue committed to building strong groundfish programs on the peninsula in Homer and Whittier, as well as our Cordova location,” Blake said in the letter. Copper River will continue to operate in Prince William Sound and Bristol Bay, and the company is “always willing and ready to recruit new fishermen into those markets, whether they are just starting out, are seasoned captains, or interested in transferring fishing areas,” Blake wrote. Copper River moved into Cook Inlet in 2019 after making an agreement with Snug Harbor Seafoods, a local Kenai Peninsula processor. Blake also noted that another processor, Rogue Wave Processing, would be entering the Kenai market as a buyer. Rogue Wave was started last November, and plans to operate out of the same facilities in the City of Kenai as Copper River and Snug Harbor did, both as a buyer and a processor. Matt Haakenson, who is leading the new company alongside Jason Ogilvie, said there are still some details the company is working out, but he is excited to be starting business in the Inlet. Haakenson, who was previously the fleet manager at Pacific Star Seafoods in Kenai and at Inlet Fish before that, said Rogue Wave is essentially a subsidiary of Vancouver-based seafood distributor Calkins & Burke. The holding company owns the facilities and is investing in the company; Haakenson said he was brought on for his local expertise. One of the reasons he was interested in coming on was to help keep an additional processor in the Kenai area. “Seeing how many processors have gone away — we’ve gone from over a dozen to just two,” he said. “(If) we can pull this operation off, we’ll make sure it doesn’t drop below three.” The plan is to approach the members of Copper River’s fleet who fished in 2021 and 2020, buy and process fish in the area, and to retail some of it at the storefront on Kalifornsky Beach Road. Haakenson said that is part of his hope for the company to be a good neighbor: they’d like to sell some of the fish to locals at the market at affordable prices. Rogue Wave is open to talking about postseason settlements with fishermen to make payment correct, especially in the case of Kasilof fishermen, who didn’t get to fish the entire 2020 season for Copper River. Haakenson said the details of those payments aren’t entire certain yet. “Copper River had obligations to their fishermen,” he said. “Rogue Wave is committed to fulfilling those obligations.” Coming into Upper Cook Inlet as a new processor is somewhat against the economic indicators. Commercial catches have been dwindling in the area for the last 10 years, with restrictive management measures limiting opportunity. Poor king salmon returns to the Kenai River mean severely restricted opportunity for most of the set gillnet fishermen along the east side of Cook Inlet due to the current management plan. Last year, the setnet fishermen were shut down in mid-July, missing out on the majority of the sockeye salmon run. This year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting an available Upper Cook Inlet commercial harvest of roughly 1.4 million sockeye; just more than half the 20-year average harvest of approximately 2.7 million fish. At the same time, the drift gillnet fishermen are facing a complete closure of the federal waters of Cook Inlet, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ. The closure is a result of multi-year lawsuit and salmon management plan revision process through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council which went into effect this year. With the EEZ closed, the drift fishermen would be restricted to the three nautical miles from shore around the Inlet. In the past, fishermen have estimated that about half the drift fleet’s catch is from within the EEZ. The federal judge presiding over lawsuits by fishermen seeking to reopen the EEZ has indicated he intends to rule by late June, just before the start of the Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery. There are still lawsuits pending from several fishermen and from organizations representing the drift fleet seeking to reverse the decision. Haakenson said Rogue Wave intends to be in Kenai for the long-term and hopes that actions the courts will make the fishery more favorable to commercial fishermen. Rogue Wave would be only the third processor left in Cook Inlet. OBI Seafoods buys salmon in Kasilof and Ninilchik, and Pacific Star runs processing plants in Kenai. E&E Foods, the parent company for Pacific Star, also bought the former Inlet Fish facility off Cannery Road in 2020. Nate Berga, Pacific Star’s manager, said the company has been very busy during the cod season this winter and is moving into the black cod and halibut seasons now before gearing up for salmon. He said the company doesn’t have plans to leave Kenai any time soon, but understood Copper River’s decision. “Operating here on the peninsula has been a challenge over the last five-plus years,” he said. “Companies have to make decisions to diversify or pull out altogether.” Both Berga and Haakenson said they’re working on securing staff for the summer season. PacStar has regulars from both the Lower 48 and the local community, but hires additional people from the Lower 48 when volumes increase. Last year, they also started using H2B visas to bring in workers from out of the country, which helps a lot to get through the season, Berga said. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Fish Board mostly leaves Sitka herring alone following truce between users

After days of deliberation and a contentious set of proposals targeting the Southeast Alaska herring fisheries, the Alaska Board of Fisheries ultimately declined to make any major changes. The Board of Fisheries met March 10-22 in Anchorage to deliberate proposals related to a large number of Southeast fisheries. The meeting was originally schedule for January, but due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Ketchikan — where it was supposed to take place — around the original dates of the meeting, the board chose to postpone and move the meeting to Anchorage. To make attending the multi-week meeting easier for stakeholders, the board split the proposals into topics scheduled in three sessions, with herring first. There were 14 proposals dealing with herring from a variety of stakeholders, but the most contentious was were from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance. The tribe’s proposals asked for a variety of changes to Sitka Sound herring management. The tribe’s main focus was to try to preserve more of the herring stock for subsistence use, but the commercial stakeholders say it would have come at the cost of the industry. The Sitka Tribe sued the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in 2018 alleging the state’s management of the herring sac roe fishery favored the commercial fleet’s harvest at the expense of traditional and subsistence uses and did not adequately protect herring stocks. The tribe agreed to drop the suit last spring after a series of rulings in the case that in-part found the state could sufficiently not back up on how it would ensure there was “reasonable opportunity” for a subsistence herring harvest each year. The tribe dropped the suit after a separate Alaska Superior Court ruling concluded there is no constitutional requirement for state managers to use the best available information in their decision-making. On the other side, the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance — an industry group representing stakeholders in the commercial sac roe herring fishery — sought to change regulations related to subsistence management. One would have opened additional area for commercial harvest, while another would have required permits for subsistence fishing to harvest roe on branches in Sitka Sound. However, on the morning when the board was supposed to begin deliberations on those proposals, a representative from the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance told the board that they and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska had agreed to work together and withdraw the proposals. A handwritten note submitted to the board, signed by representatives from both groups, confirmed it. “I would like to thank all the parties that worked so hard to come to an agreement on these proposals,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, who represented the SHCA. “I would like to thank the board members who were involved late last night. … It was a difficult task but we all worked diligently and we arrived at a consensus to withdraw (our proposals).” The board did not deliberate the groups’ proposals, and the representatives did not offer any further information about what kind of agreement was reached. The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery has historically been a valuable one, though it has not been open since 2019. In 2018, the ex-vessel value was only worth about $1 million, according to Fish and Game, but that was down from a high in 2009 of about $12.7 million. For the sac roe fishery, the value is in the eggs, which are harvested and largely exported. Japan is the major market for herring roe. However, the value in the fishery depends heavily on the size of the herring — too big or too small, and the eggs won’t work for the processors for the product they’re looking for. “In 2021, (the) average size was 110, 115 grams, average roe size is about 11 grams,” said John Woodruff of OBI Seafoods during public testimony on March 11. “That’s very marginal for this (Japanese) gift pack market. It doesn’t present well. This year, we expect to have 120-gram fish, 125-gram fish. It’s going to be good stuff.” Jamie Ross, a fisherman from Homer, told the board that herring markets depend tightly on size, so Sitka fish are not easily substituted for another within the processing market. “Sitka fish are the most valuable for their size, 120-130 (grams),” he said. “Kodiak fish occupy a bigger size range, and the Togiak fish, we really can’t sell them if they’re under 300 grams. They’re used in a completely different product form in Japan.” The Sitka Sound herring fleet was on notice as of early March 22, with Fish and Game managers reporting no herring schools or spawn sighted. However, survey conditions were poor, with bad weather and air turbulence, according to an announcement issued Monday. A two-hour notice for fishing could be issued any time after Tuesday morning, according to Fish and Game. The board did deliberate on the remaining proposals, approving only one in the end. The one successful proposal increases the possession limit for subsistence spawn-on-kelp harvest from 32 to 75 pounds for an individual, or from 158 pounds to 325 for a family. Board members said they saw increasing the harvest limit as reasonable it based on the current stock levels and to make the fishery more efficient, reducing the number of trips that subsistence harvesters have to make. Board member John Jensen said he’d support it based on the herring numbers projected by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “There’s a lot of herring coming in, and I don’t think it’s going to cause any serious problems — it’s just going to give people more opportunity,” he said. None of the proposals seemed significantly controversial among the board members — all except one were unanimous. The only one that split the vote was a proposal that would have established a quota share system for the sac roe herring fishery, split up among all existing permit holders. The proposer said that the fishery is dangerous currently because of the rush to harvest during a short fishery, often lasting less than a week. A second proposal asked for a very similar measure for very similar reasons. Board member Israel Payton said he didn’t think tying the quota to the permit fit with the intent of how the permits were designed. “I’m very cautious on this one,” he said. “I understand the proposer’s reasonings and he had some great reasonings to do it, but I don’t think the board needs to step in as a government agency and regulate the competitive commerce that’s going on in this fishery.” Jensen was the only member who voted in favor, citing conservation concerns about the fishery, as it could reduce the number of boats on the water, who would be able to focus on their fishing without having to be worried about the chaotic activity of boats around them. He also said he wasn’t as concerned about the complaints that this would put crew members out of jobs because fishermen in recent years have had trouble finding enough crew members to fish at all. “Manning boats, nowadays, it was never like that when I fished back in the day. People were begging for these jobs, seine jobs,” he said. “Nowadays, if you want to be a seiner, you’d better have a big family so you have a crew.” The proposal failed 5-1, with Jensen voting in favor. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Crab crash: Effects of collapsed Bering Sea crab stocks are being felt far beyond the fleet

The crash in Bering Sea crab stocks is translating to serious impacts for fishermen and communities across the Western Alaska coast. A long-term decline in Bristol Bay red king crab abundance paired with an unforeseen plummet in snow crab stocks led to significant cuts in the available Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab harvest for 2022. From the top, the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is closed entirely this season for the first time since the 1990s, while the Bering Sea snow crab total allowable catch was reduced by nearly 90 percent. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are working on a stock rebuilding plan for the snow crab, but that could take years. In the meantime, fishermen who depend on crab are dealing with the fallout of those cuts this year. When the crabbing season began in January — red king crab fishing traditionally starts in October — boat captains had to decide whether it was worth making the trip out into the Bering Sea for such less quota than they were used to. Gabriel Prout of Kodiak was waiting out a storm in the Akutan harbor last week, after finishing up his snow crab season. The F/V Silver Spray, the vessel he owns with his father and brothers, was only able to go out for 100,000 pounds of snow crab. Of that, they only caught about 75,000 pounds because the fishing was so slow; they traded the rest of the quota for bairdi and headed south. Tough ice conditions also made the fishing difficult, Prout said. For the first time in many years the ice reached the northern side of St. Paul Island, and it covered up many of the spots where crab had recently been known to congregate. But even in the open spots, according to Prout, fishing was very slow. “(We caught) 200 to 300 crab per pot on average last year,” he said. “Going back to kind of the same area this year and looking around several miles in each direction, I have to say it was fairly poor and spotty. We didn’t even have a pot of 200 crabs. I think our high pot was 180 — right around 100 keepers a pot. Not too exciting out there. Some boats went farther up north there toward the beginning in mid-January, but like we mentioned, the ice kind of covered up some of the more desirable spots.” The Silver Spray went out to its normal fishing grounds, but not every vessel did. Prout said some of the others chose to stay behind in harbor, to save the fuel and crew pay in a year with such low quota. Others are choosing to diversify and trade quota where they can and looking for other opportunities. After finishing the crabbing season, he said the Silver Spray will be crossing the Gulf of Alaska to tender for the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery. “There’s definitely boats that are looking for more opportunity this year,” Prout said. “When you have your snow crab quota reduced by 90 percent ... that’s a big, big hit to these vessels out there. There’s definitely boats kind of scrambling, looking for opportunity.” St. Paul Fishing Co. has a combination of both. The company, a subsidiary of the CDQ group Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, owns three crabbing vessels and quota in the Bering Sea crab fishery. Over time, the company — based on the small island in the central Bering Sea, with a year-round population of about 470 people — has bought up more of the crab quotas in the region, making itself economically dependent on the fate of the crab fishery. Jeff Kauffman, CEO of St. Paul Fishing Co., said the company sent two boats out to fish snow crab this year. The quota cuts translated to one load from one boat and two loads from another. That was it. “(The crews’) incomes were slashed very, very significantly,” he said. “We put one boat up for sale, and that put six guys out of work, which is incredibly unfortunate because those guys have worked for us for some time now.” The company invested heavily in crab back in 2015, when it bought out Icicle Seafoods’ quota. Crab is now the most important economic resource to St. Paul. While halibut are the cash fishery and provide both food and personal income to the island, it’s crab that brings in the major money to the island. The CDQ group does hold some quota for pollock and for black cod, but not on the scale that it does with crab. Pollock saw about a 19 percent cut this year, which hurt as well, Kauffman said. The processing plant is a major employer, and the tax revenue from the landings help pay for the infrastructure and government in the community. When the cuts were announced, leaders of St. Paul Fishing Co. and CBSFA met to discuss emergency budget cutting, working with the tribe and the community, Kauffman said. It was challenging, but the organization managed to keep its budget balanced this year, but the boats and the crews are paying for it, he said. “One boat last year did 1.8 million pounds last year, only did 200,000 pounds this year,” he said. “Boats are expensive, insurance rates continue to climb ... everything is seemingly getting more expensive, and all of a sudden, we have a lot less revenue to make that happen.” No one knows when or if the crab stocks will rebound, or even the reason for the decline. Researchers have said they’re reasonably certain something happened that caused a mortality event, but not entirely sure what. Until they do rebound, the fishermen and communities will have to plan around the scarcity of crab. The loss of revenue to the local government is a major cost to the decline in the fishery as well. During the Council’s September 2021 meeting, when the crab TAC cuts were first being discussed, Unalaska Mayor Vincent Tutiakoff Sr. wrote that the City of Unalaska would lose not only the fisheries landing taxes from the Bristol Bay red king crab and snow crab fisheries, but also lost taxes on fuel sales and lost wharfage revenue. At that time, when they were estimating only a 50 percent cut in snow crab, it meant $1.7 million less for the city with an operating budget of nearly $30 million. St. Paul’s residents often fish halibut for cash and subsistence, but without crab, the island’s government and services will decline, according to Kauffman. He noted that if the fishery closes entirely or the quota becomes too small, the processing plant may not open, which would reduce economic activity on the island. The tourism sector on the island also depends on the plant, which is where the tourists who come to see birds and seals are fed and sometimes housed. “It’s hard to imagine a day in the Bering Sea where there’s no crab fishery, and when the crab plant is completely dark,” Kauffman said. “It’s absolutely terrifying for the residents of St. Paul. This is who we’ve become and who we are and how we exist. Halibut is the most important to the people, but crab is the most important to the community.” The Bering Sea Crabbers Association and a number of the stakeholders are working on a request for fisheries disaster relief. However, even that wouldn’t likely bring immediate help, as federal disaster declaration and relief funding can take years to arrive. Prout said streamlining that relief is one thing that would help the fishermen significantly, and they hope to see relief to help with expenses like boat payments and lost income. He and his brothers are younger and bought into half of the fishing business with their father, who has been fishing for decades on the Bering Sea. Despite the downturn, they still have hope that the fishery will improve enough to support them in the future and provide opportunity. “There’s still a lot of opportunity here,” Prout said. “Leading up to 2021, the snow crab quotas were looking really, really healthy. In 2019, they were seeing the biggest recruitment ever, not really sure where that went. Obviously, king crab has been on the decline for a little while. Really, it’s diversifying, going into the fishery to supplement your income, buying into those shares to boost your income a little bit. You want to get the next generation involved in this, and that’s what we’re trying to do.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

State park land swap bill would keep Tutka Bay hatchery open

A bill moving through the Legislature would provide a chunk of land cut out of a state park to an embattled hatchery just south of Homer to settle debate about its legality, but locals feelings about the proposal are mixed. House Bill 52, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, would allow for a land designation change in Kachemak Bay State Park, a large wilderness park across Kachemak Bay from Homer. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association operates the hatchery in Tutka Bay, which is within the boundaries of Kachemak Bay State Park, producing pink and sockeye salmon. The pink salmon are primarily targeted by the commercial fishermen in lower Cook Inlet, while the sockeye salmon reared there are used by commercial, sport and personal use fishermen, including at the popular China Poot dipnet fishery. The park was created in 1970. Shortly after its creation, the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery was built by the state in 1975, targeting pink and chum salmon run enhancement. The state handed it over for operation to Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, which has operated it ever since. CIAA shuttered the operation between 2004 and 2011 due to low pink salmon prices, but maintained the facility and reopened it when pink salmon prices made the hatchery operation economically viable again. Today, commercial fishermen harvest the hatchery pink salmon in addition to the wild stocks. The hatchery has long been a target of ire for conservationists, sportfishing groups, recreational users and property owners in Kachemak Bay, among other opposition. Over the years, they have contested that the hatchery does not comply with the purpose of the park, challenging the hatchery’s use of net pens and operating permits. A forthcoming proposed management plan for Kachemak Bay State Park would also designate the hatchery “incompatible” with park operations. The bill is designed to help deal with another problem — a longstanding illegal land disposal problem. Vance said the bill would carve out about 123.5 acres where the hatchery sits and simultaneously incorporate another 267 acres of state land on the road-accessible northern side of Kachemak Bay into the existing park, resulting in a net gain for the park and resolving the constitutional issue. Vance said the issue over the hatchery has led to concern among her constituents in Homer and that she understands those who are opposed to the bill. “I completely understand where they’re coming from, but we have a legal land disposal issue,” she said. The land use issue arises from a section of the Alaska Constitution that deals with land acquisition for special purpose sites, according to a joint letter from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources sating the administration’s support for the bill. Removing the lands from the park would resolve that problem, as well as transferring management of the lands the hatchery occupies from the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation — which doesn’t usually manage hatcheries — to the Division of Mining, Land and Water in coordination with Fish and Game. The new version of the bill also adds a reversion clause, preventing the land from being sold if the hatchery ever does close. If the hatchery closes for three years, the land will automatically revert to the park, which Fish and Game and DNR support, according to the letter. “We find this provision appropriate and a strong compromise that balances the interests of the varied public policy considerations,” the letter, signed by DNR Commissioner Corri Feigi and Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, states. The lands that would be added to the park would also provide direct road access to the section on the north side for the first time. Currently, users have to park and cross private land and borough easements to reach the park by vehicle, Vance said during a Feb. 7 House Resources hearing. During the Feb. 7 hearing, legislators raised some concerns about CIAA’s debt for its facilities and ability to raise revenue by running the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. Pink salmon typically earn a much lower price per pound than any other type of commercially harvested salmon, and the hatchery makes a return on investment in part through a cost recovery harvest of the salmon that return to its facilities. HB 52 is the House Resources Committee — it’s last stop before a potential House vote — after moving through the Fisheries Committee last year. Sam Rabung, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries, said hatcheries commonly use pink salmon and chum salmon programs to help underwrite the more expensive king, sockeye and silver salmon programs. Currently, CIAA is in about $15 million of debt to the state for its salmon enhancement programs and facilities, about 23 percent of which is due to the Tutka hatchery, he said. The cost recovery helps enable them to pay those debts; if the hatchery were closed, the organization would still be on the hook for the debt and have to pay it through returns to other hatcheries. “Pink salmon do pay the bills,” he said. “Maybe the price is lower for pinks, but they make up for it in volume. There’s not a hatchery program in the state … that don’t exist without a pink or chum program.” Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery also provides rearing facilities for sockeye salmon runs in Lower Cook Inlet, including to the China Poot personal use dipnet fishery. Rabung said the state doesn’t have precise numbers about participation in that fishery, but that it is significant, and is dependent on the Tutka hatchery because there is nowhere else to rear and imprint sockeye for the Lower Cook Inlet lake systems. Without the Tutka hatchery, the China Poot run and other Lower Cook Inlet sockeye hatchery runs would “cease to exist,” he said. During a Feb. 11 hearing before the House Resources Committee on the bill, residents of Homer spoke largely in opposition to it. Most of them cited conservation concerns and issues with the fiscal solvency of the facility. Roberta Highland, a longtime Homer conservation activist, told the committee that she understands the land disposal issue, but that Tutka Bay is not the right place for a hatchery. “Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery has had years of problems, and this really has never been the right spot for this hatchery,” she said. A signed letter from an organization called Cook Inlet Coalition and signed by dozens of Homer activists, including former state representative Paul Seaton, former Board of Fisheries member Virgil Umphenour, multiple commercial fishermen, and two former employees of the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery, argues that the operation of the hatchery is “incompatible with the statutory purpose, intent, and definition of Kachemak Bay State Park” under a forthcoming park management plan and asks the Legislature to oppose the bill. CIAA Executive Director Dean Day wrote in a Feb. 11 letter that one of the reasons the hatchery has significant debt is because of the infrastructure investment required to reopen it after years of being closed. The current debt load of $15 million is from 1992 to present, with earlier bills since the organizations founding in 1976 having been paid off, he wrote. However, the loss of a hatchery would be damaging. “The loss of operations in any hatchery will have an immediate effect on CIAA’s ability to provide funding for its other programs,” Day wrote. Steve Vanek of Ninilchik, who serves on the CIAA board of directors, pointed to other commercial operations in the park and set them equal to the hatchery as businesses. “Tutka hatchery is a business, which depends on many support businesses,” he said. “In a time when oil is no longer king, are we going to get rid of another fishing business?” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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